What is it with football and discrimination?
In the last month alone, we’ve had alleged Chelsea fans preventing a black man from boarding a Paris Metro train, an ex-England manager using homophobic language in a radio interview and Manchester United supporters appearing to chant sexist abuse towards a female doctor.
Each of these dismal incidents demonstrates how far the world of football still has to travel to catch up with the rest of the modern world when it comes to equality and diversity.
It is therefore no surprise to hear that Premier League clubs are also dramatically failing in their duties to provide facilities for disabled supporters.
According to reports in the Guardian, only two Premier League clubs meet the minimum number of wheelchair places for the size of their stadiums, as agreed by the 1998 Football Task Force.
Clubs are also failing to make other reasonable adjustments, such as providing changing facilities, lifts and catering services for disabled supporters.
Only last month, a lifelong fan of Manchester United, the second richest club in the world, reported that he was told that he could not sit with his eldest disabled son and two younger boys. Instead, he would have to pay for someone else to look after his two younger sons elsewhere in the ground.
The campaigning charity, Level Playing Field, has long been challenging football clubs to remove barriers for disabled fans. Joyce Cook, Chair of the organisation, argues for better regulation from the FA or Premier League.
She says: “We have been calling for change for over a decade. Some clubs are doing a good job, but there is still a great deal to do. Disabled fans have endured poor conditions at many top clubs for far too long.”
In response, many Premier League clubs argue that standards should only apply to new grounds or, laughably, suggest that the costs of renovating old grounds to improve facilities for disabled fans are prohibitively high. After last month’s TV rights deal, I can think of 5.14 billion reasons why that argument doesn’t stack up.
The law already requires clubs, just as much as any other business, to make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers, as enshrined in the Equality Act 2010.
Whilst cost is a factor to be taken into account when considering whether an adjustment is reasonable, when there is so much money in Premier League football, such arguments sound very hollow.
Sadly, football clubs often appear to consider themselves above the law, feeling they can act with impunity because their fans will continue to love them, no matter what. In fact, it is this special position occupied by football clubs that means that they, of all organisations, should take equality issues seriously.
The influence of clubs and players on supporters’ behaviour is clear. Remember, one of those alleged Chelsea fans on the Paris Metro tweeted at the time of the incident “Our captain is a racist, a racist, a racist and that is why we love him, we love him, we love him”, referring to John Terry’s four match ban for allegedly racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.
I was reminded of this when I read reports that West Ham’s fans were recently reported to the FA for offensive chants directed at Spurs player Harry Kane relating to disability.
As a West Ham fan, this saddens me. If Premier League clubs like West Ham were more open and positive towards disabled people, perhaps supporters wouldn’t act in this way.